Sunday, July 25, 2021

Soggy Fish Sandwiches?


(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 25, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Kings 4: 42-44; Psalm 145: 10-18; Ephesians 4: 1-6; John 6: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2021]


The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel used to refer to it—disdainfully—as “the soggy fish sandwich theory.”  This, he said, is the way some modern Scripture scholars try to explain away the miracle story we just heard from John 6: the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Since these professors do not believe that miracles are possible, they theorize that many of the people who came to hear Jesus that day already had bread and fish with them! And once they saw the disciples passing out the five loaves and the two fish that they had been given (in other words, once they saw the disciples sharing their food in this way), they decided to do the same thing.  And so the miracle was NOT that the loaves and fishes literally multiplied; the miracle was that the people who had bread and fish SHARED with the people who didn’t have any!  Everyone then ate to their heart’s content—and, amazingly, they still had some soggy fish sandwiches left over.  Fr. Groeschel usually ended his reflection on this subject by saying, “It makes me sick.”  Needless to say, he did not buy into the soggy fish sandwich theory!

The problem here is that even though these Scripture scholars claim to be believers, they have a preconceived prejudice against the supernatural.  In other words, if they can’t explain it in purely human terms, then (according to them) it could not have possibly happened.  And there are many people in the world today who have this attitude.  All of them, by the way, could take a lesson from one of the greatest scientists who ever lived—Albert Einstein.  One day many years ago Einstein was visited by a young priest from New York named Charles McTague.  They sat down in his office, and Einstein proceeded to tell Fr. McTague that he wanted to talk to him about (of all things) the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.  It seems that Einstein was fascinated by the idea of a substance that you can’t see; a substance that has no shape or size or color.  (“A substance with no accidents,” as we say in theology.)  As many of us know, the Church teaches that at the consecration of the Mass the substance of the bread and wine becomes the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, even though the accidents (in other words, the physical qualities) of the bread and wine remain.  Finally, at the end of the conversation, Einstein said to the priest, “Please send me any books in German that you can find that tell me about the Holy Eucharist.”  And that’s what Fr. McTague did.

Now what I find most interesting about this story is the fact that Einstein was open to the possibility of the supernatural.  He didn’t say, “My mind is the measure of all things, and if I can’t explain something using my scientific categories, then it doesn’t exist.”  His attitude was, “Maybe there’s something to it.  Maybe it’s true.  And if that’s the case, then I need to be open to this truth, even it’s beyond the categories of physical science.”

Perhaps Einstein would not have been surprised by the story that a parishioner once told me about an experience he had in Okinawa back in the 1940s, during the Second World War.  The parishioner said, “Two of my friends and I were walking on the beach in Okinawa one Sunday morning, and we came across a small, flat-bottomed boat; so we decided to take it for a ride.  Well, we had only been out for about five minutes, when a big storm hit.  We tried to paddle back to the shore but we couldn’t make it.  We thought for sure that we were going to die.  My friends were crying, but I was praying!  I prayed the Act of Contrition, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary.  We were tossed around in that storm for several hours.  Finally, at one point, I looked up, and I saw this large blue light near the boat.  My friends didn’t see it, but I did.  I had a strong sense that it was the Blessed Mother watching over us.  Then, all of a sudden, a boat appeared behind the light, and we were rescued. 

“Afterward, I spoke to the captain of the ship.  I said, ‘How did you find us in that horrible storm?’  The captain said, ‘Well, I spotted a strange, blue light off in the distance.  I decided to follow that light, and I ended up at your boat.’”

Was it the Blessed Mother?  Could it possibly have been the Blessed Mother?  Could it possibly have been a supernatural event?  If we believe in the “soggy fish sandwich theory” of the gospel story we just heard, then we will say, “No way; it’s impossible; it was just a stroke of good luck; it was just a coincidence.”  Personally, given the fact that I hate soggy fish sandwiches, I am of a different opinion.  I hope and pray that you are too. 


Sunday, July 04, 2021

What Would Our Founding Fathers Say?


(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 4, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2021]


What would our Founding Fathers say?

If they could be resurrected to this life for a brief period of time, and could survey the current state of affairs in the country they helped to establish, what do you think their reaction would be?

Unfortunately, we can’t know the answer to that question with absolute certainty.  We can’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, exactly what they would say in the face of contemporary American culture.

But we can certainly venture a guess!—based on the things they DID say and write more than 200 years ago.

For example:

Here’s a great quote from John Adams, the second President of the United States: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Based on that remark, I think President Adams would say to us, “The Constitution is failing you right now in the United States, because you’ve allowed yourselves to become another kind of people.  To a great extent, your culture is no longer moral or religious.”

Here’s one from Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.  Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

I think Mr. Rush would say to us today, “Have you noticed that there’s a lot of ‘mischief’ in your society right now—mischief which is often sanctioned and promoted by some of your most highly-educated, anti-religious citizens?  That’s not a coincidence.”

Here’s one from John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court: “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next.  Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”

Can you imagine what Chief Justice Jay would say about the current attempt to remove all references to God from the public life of our country?  He’d probably say, “That’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make, America.”

And finally there are these two from George Washington (you all know who he was): “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society”; and “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

In 2021, George would probably say, “Two hundred years ago I told you it was impossible to govern properly without reference to God and the Scriptures, but you obviously didn’t believe me.  Good luck trying to do it another way.”

I think all these Founding Fathers would highly approve of the 3 Scripture readings that God has given us on this Independence Day weekend.  They would find them most appropriate, given the current state of affairs in our nation.  For example, you could very easily make the case that the United States right now is on the verge of a kind of internal collapse just like the Kingdom of Judah was on the verge of collapse for its infidelity at the time of Ezekiel, the prophet.  As we heard in today’s first reading, they were “a rebellious house.”

And when you think of all the prophetic people that God has sent to us Americans in recent decades, calling us to reform, calling us to turn away from materialism and hedonism and all the manifestations of the culture of death—people like St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and a host of lesser voices; when you think of all these prophetic souls and how they have been—and still are—ridiculed in popular culture and in our nation’s universities, you can’t help but think of the way Jesus was treated by the people of his own hometown of Nazareth 2,000 years ago.  As we heard in today’s gospel reading, “they took offense at him.”  They tuned him out and refused to believe his message because they thought he was too “ordinary.”  To use the modern lingo, Jesus wasn’t “woke” enough for them, so they decided to “cancel” him out.

But notice there were consequences to their disbelief.  Mark tells us that because of their lack of faith, Jesus was not able to do for the people of his hometown what he wanted to do for them! 

The evangelist wrote, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

The people of Nazareth couldn’t have it both ways, and neither can we as citizens of this great nation.  If we want God’s blessings in abundance—blessings like peace and justice— then we need to take him and his word seriously.  It’s that simple.  Chief Justice John Jay understood that truth 200 years ago, as did most of our other Founding Fathers.

We need to re-learn it in our generation.

Thankfully, God does promise us sufficient grace in today’s second reading to deal with whatever will come in the future for our country.  We can take some consolation in this: the Lord will be there to help those who are faithful to him no matter what happens.  His words to St. Paul in this text from 2 Corinthians 12 are also spoken to us as individuals: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

In the meantime, if we truly love our country, we should pray every day for the conversion of more of our citizens.  (That’s because good Christians—at least in my view—make the best citizens.)  We should also work for positive change in our nation as best we can by promoting virtue and actively opposing vice.  And we should resolve in future elections to support only those men and women who actually believe in the principles our Founding Fathers believed in—starting with the right to life, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

I will close my homily now with a prayer for our nation that I found a while back online.  As I pray these words out loud, I invite you to join me in praying them in your heart:

 God our Father,

Giver of life, we entrust the United States of America to your loving care.

You are the rock upon which this nation was founded.

You alone are the true source of our cherished rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reclaim this land for your glory, and dwell among your people.

Send your Spirit to touch the hearts of our nation’s leaders.

Open their minds to the great worth of human life and the responsibilities that accompany human freedom.

Remind your people that true happiness is rooted in seeking and doing your will.

Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of our land, grant us the courage to reject the culture of death.  Lead us into a new era of life.

We ask all this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.